Not everyone will be enthralled with Tony Kushner, the prolific playwright who wrote the astounding
Angels in America
, despite what one of his actor friends correctly identifies as his "very big brain" and his "very big heart."
Tonight's P.O.V. profile (9 p.m., WHYY TV12) by Freida Lee Mock, who won an Oscar for a similar 1996 work on Vietnam Veterans Memorial designer Maya Lin, presents a fascinating and intimate look at an artistic genius who seems so ordinary in so many ways.
In Wrestling With Angels: Playwright Tony Kushner, Mock spends three years with Kushner, a whirlwind whether he's shambling through the streets of New York toward his next meeting, rehearsal or performance; touring childhood haunts in Lake Charles, La., prior to his father's 75th birthday; or urging college students to become citizens of the world.
Maybe if you had a father like Kushner's, who quotes Shakespeare and Robert Browning at festive gatherings and was a classical clarinetist and orchestra conductor, you'd be a playwright, too.
You'd also be Jewish, and, probably, highly political, falling off the left side of the spectrum. You wouldn't necessarily be gay, but Kushner is. A segment of the movie shows his wedding to former Entertainment Weekly editor Mark Harris. The cake was fabulous.
Whenever I write about Jews and gays, I get these weird anonymous phone calls dripping with hate. Most of them come in after midnight, according to the voice-mail marker.
Whenever I write about liberals, I get calls from people who have more self-confidence, eager to try to pigeonhole my politics while explaining the idiocy of the progressive path.
One of his themes, Kushner says, is "the need to surrender a certain degree of arrogant assumption in order to understand something genuinely other."
He's talking about his play Homebody/Kabul, and the "other" in question is Afghanistan and its citizens, including the Taliban, whom he calls "ghastly, theocratic thugs."
But "the other" is everywhere, and one of television's great joys is that it allows us all to see it. Except in its more annoying manifestations (see Bill O'Reilly, Glenn Beck, et al.), TV does not demand that we embrace the other, nor - and some readers just don't seem to get this - do I.
I love television because it helps me to surrender arrogant assumptions, to watch and learn. And then I can be arrogant again and tell you all what to watch. And then, God bless you, you can bring me back to normal by telling me what a dope I am.
But you really might want to watch a show about a towering artistic force who wrote about Afghanistan and terrorism before 9/11, and included these lines in a musical three years before Hurricane Katrina: "There ain't no underground in Louisiana. There is only underwater."
Filmmaker Mock parts the curtain on the nuts and bolts of theater from high school to Broadway, with a cinema verite style that rarely drags, and she helps us get to know Kushner.
You certainly do not have to be like him. In fact, you couldn't if you tried.